Friday, September 24, 2010

Down to the Wire

I am finally starting my thesis paper. Today. It's due Monday. A hard copy to Miami. I got a private room at the local library and I have all my stuff set up. 

I went to plug in the cord to my laptop, and realized that I left the power cord at home. My sausage link-sized computer battery will only last two hours, so I am hoping that it doesn't power down during a brain revelation. 

I have my first paragraphs written and a game plan. The sitting and getting started is the hardest part, and now I have three timers messing up my flow: the power on my laptop, my deadline, and my bladder. The last one is in there because every time I really start feeling the groove of writing, I have to pee, which is okay at home, but I will have to pack up all my stuff here to go to the bathroom and I already need to go. Sigh.

I was going to work at home, but Ben is slightly clingier today than usual, so Mark is watching him while I "get serious writing done." 

Why can't things be easy?

Friday, August 27, 2010

The First Leg of the Trip

So, I have made it through the first packet of the semester, which consisted of a substantial amount of creative writing and an outline for this critical paper. The outline came to me pretty easily, but I worry that I won't be able to find the information that I think I will find when I finally start writing this thing (which I haven't started yet). The main reason why I can't start on the critical paper is that my mentor and I keep adding books to the primary source list. This is what I have so far:

Bastard out of Carolina - D. Allison
The Liar's Club - M. Karr
Two or Three Things I Know for Sure - D. Allison
A Turn in the South - V. Naipaul
Ecology of a Cracker Childhood - J. Ray
Praying for Sheetrock - M. Greene
Trash - D. Allison
Skin: Talking about Sex, Class & Literature - D. Allison
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men - J. Agee

I had everything under control until we added the last three books in the last three weeks. Now I feel like I am enveloped in other people's words and am having a hard time hearing my own voice - which is kind of a nice break, I suppose.

Now, it is time to put fingers to keyboard and type more than just blog posts, Facebook updates, and work-related copy. I'll update soon.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Taking on a Persona

There has been much debate about taking on a pseudonym when nonfiction writers publish their work. My two mentors, Susan and Dan, take the position of Joan Didion: "Writers are always selling somebody out." They feel like we have creative rights to our stories and shouldn't have to ask permission or hide behind a fake name to tell them. Several of us nonfiction students have, at one time or another, faltered in our faith that our families will still be around after we publish our first memoir, and every time that happens, they get more and more militant about writers having exclusive rights on their story, and the RIGHT to tell their story.

As I have progressed through the MFA program, I have slowly built up my courage to tell my story without changing names and telling details for anonymity's sake. However, I have had a strong need to construct a persona in my humor writing. I think I have always had some sort of persona in my writing, and I especially noticed this in my writing last semester. I think the motivation for me has been because there are things that I think in the course of the day that not very civil - things you wouldn't say in front of "polite company." Even though these thoughts are a little rough around the edges sometimes, it seems that these are the thoughts that my friends and family can relate to more than anything else I say. I think it's because I write and say things that other people think and feel, but would rather not share with the class.

For example, I was talking to my sister the other day about my two-year-old and about my frustration with his ongoing obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine. The only way to express how I feel when I see the same 20 episodes every week was just to say, "Thomas and Percy are the bane of my existence." Obviously, that statement is hyperbolic, but any mother of a two-year-old boy will know exactly how I feel.

So, to give myself a creative outlet without the trouble of public scrutiny, I have set up an anonymous web presence to allow myself to say whatever I feel without the censorship that I usually apply to my everyday speech. I must say, I haven't been so excited about a writing project in a while, and to be honest, I don't say anything that scandalous or foul. It's just nice to feel the freedom that comes from the absence of censorship sometimes.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Gearing Up

Now that all of the diseases of the world have exited my house, and our wonderful July 4th vacation is over, I am preparing to work on my 25-page critical paper by re-reading all of the books that I will use as my primary resources. However, unlike the beginning of the past two semesters, every time I look at my unassuming stack of Primary Resources beside my bed, my stomach sinks.

The reason for this is both clear and unclear to me.

First of all, I will say that the reasons that I should NOT be nervous are that:

1. As always, I have a great mentor this semester - Dan Wakefield - and he is one of the kindest, caring, wisest people I know.

2. I have the mental capability to handle this project, and, at the end of the day, I know that I will succeed in finishing it.

3. The past two semesters at Converse have completely prepared me for this project.

Still, I have a sinking feeling because I am not confident that I will ace this task. I feel like I may bomb it, in fact. As in I may turn in a "B" or, heaven forbid, a "C" quality paper. An over-achiever, I am.  A sore loser, I am.

The only real positive thing I have going for me is that I feel passionate about my topic. I named my blog about it! So, that should motivate me to continue writing and quiet down some of the negative thoughts that will surely come swooping through my brain as I try to make sense of my thoughts. To all who are facing a similar task, I send good feelings and happy thoughts.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mommy Hat

Today, Ben was sick, so I had to put on my full-time mommy hat, as opposed to my normal  play-trains-for-an-hour-then-say-"Here, watch Elmo's World for twenty minutes so Mommy can jot this down"-routine. I tucked Ben into my bed and we watched a movie, played some games, and then we read for a while before lunch. Since he was sick, I just gave him some light reading today (see picture below). Tomorrow, it's back to The Odyssey, a dictionary, and Tolstoy!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Stress Baking

A week before leaving to go to my most recent summer residency, I got super anxious. I'm really not sure why, because I really love everyone at Converse and I look forward to the interaction with other writers. However, I found it really hard to drop everything at home for almost two weeks and study somewhere several hours away. I worried that my home life would fall apart without me, even though it didn't happen the first few times I left.

It really started to be apparent to me that I was overwhelmed when I started feeling really exhausted when I even thought about my mile-long to-do list: I had to get Ben to my in-laws, and write out Mark's reminder/honey-do list, pay the bills, go to the bank, the grocery store, the doctor's office, etc.

We were also in the midst of post-production on an extremely stressful documentary project (they are all extremely stressful), and I didn't really want to leave while the momentum was going so strong.

So, for that whole week, in the mornings when Ben would play in his room, I would execute the same strategy that I developed in undergrad to calm me down when things got stressful - I baked. I baked blueberry cobblers, a flan, rainbow chip cupcakes, blueberry muffins, and plain-ole' chocolate cake. Mark didn't say a word; he just pulled up a chair, fork in hand. He has learned years ago that this is my coping method, and he is grateful for it. Not that it's the only time I cook - rarely is there a night where I don't prepare a hot meal for dinnertime. He is just glad that I choose baking, as opposed to other outlets, to dispel my anxiety. One of my wonderful writing mentors, Susan Tekulve, also shares this baking compulsion. She rattled off the list of baked goods that she had prepared in anticipation of the residency after I shared mine, the first day I got to Converse.

Since I started my MFA program, I read a lot of writing craft books written by successful nonfiction and fiction writers, and there seems to be an ongoing theme of kinetic energy sparking creative work. Most of them go for long runs outside, but that is something that I will never do because of my own private set of morals (you have to take a moral stance about something in this world, right?). I was really upset, at first, when I discovered this - something I thought as a prerequisite to good writing when I first noticed the pattern in all of these books. However, without realizing it, I had my own kinetic activity that gave me the clarity of mind to follow through with my writing endeavors and to keep my family eating high on the hog, so to speak.

Everything was just fine, I was baking, and eating, and baking, and eating, and sometimes writing, and then baking, until last night. I was at church, at this "weight-loss with Jesus" program that my good friend, Kayla, roped me into, and since she is the coordinator for the class, I had to comply. I got on the scale, and had gained three pounds since the week before the residency, and only Kayla knew the results (and her four-year-old son, who refused to leave the nursery where the scale was tucked away privately), but I still felt like a failure. I haven't really been trying - let's be honest - but I really thought that the scale would not betray me like that. So, at the end of the session, I looked at the prayer request form that we always filled out every week, trying to think of something commendable to request - someone in the group was going to get this, so I wanted it to seem like I know what I am doing. I drew a blank. I couldn't think of anything noble. The collection basket was coming around to me, so without thinking anymore, I wrote, "Please pray that I will be able to resist (quicker) the stress baking compulsion that I have." I shoved it in the basket before I realized that it looked more like a confession than a request for encouragement.

So, this morning, when I started to feel stressed again (about the documentary again), I flung open the refrigerator and stared down the pint of blueberries that were begging to be baked into a cobbler. I went to grab them, and then I remembered the prayer request. I would be a hypocrite if I baked these healthy blueberries into a cobbler a day after I asked that someone tell God to stop me. I took a heavy, loud breath and shut the door. I turned to my left to look at the pile of produce sitting on my counter top. There were a bunch of red potatoes begging to be mashed. Without a second thought, I grabbed my peeler and started going at them.

Scrape, scrape, scrape!

"Why would he have done that? It doesn't make any sense."

I am talking only to myself, of course.

Scrape, scrape scrape!

"I thought we squashed this argument weeks ago!"

Again, I said this to myself.

Scrape, scrape, scrape!

"Mommy?" Ben said to me.

He was looking pretty nervous at this point.

Scrape, scrape, scrape!

"Ben, Mommy's busy. Go play in your room."

Scrape, scrape, scrape!

Fourteen potatoes later, I still didn't feel calm. I put them all in a stock pot and moved on to scrubbing the sink.

Scrub, scrub, scrub!

A sparkling double sink later, and I still felt like my heart was going to burst from stress.

I considered why this new technique didn't work for me, and the answer is this - I don't enjoy any of that. Scrubbing my sink and peeling potatoes gave me the license to be aggressively acting on inanimate objects, but I didn't have the beautiful display of something full of sugar and flour to show for it. Stress baking is my key to success because I love doing it. I wish "my thing" was running, I really do, and I wish I didn't really resent the people who use running as their kinetic release, I really do, but I can't change the way things are.

So, will I continue to stress bake?

I think I have to. Even if it means that I gain three pounds twice a year, and have to work a little harder afterwards to get them off again, it's worth it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Writing Prompts 6/21/10

I am having a difficult time finding my writing muse so that I can hit it over the head and go on about my business. So, I have scrounged up some writing prompts to get my mind around writing, and I hope they will be useful for you as well. Use the prompt as the beginning of your first sentence, and please post which ones, if any/all, were helpful to you. You are welcome to post the first few sentences of your writing response, if you are so inclined to do so!

1. "That last performance was..." (Write your response to any performance that you have watched recently, or write about a time you performed something in front of an audience during your adult years or childhood.) 

2. "When I woke up this morning..." (Describe a morning that you woke up feeling differently about something. It can be about a relationship, a trauma, or something abstract - like love or honor. Just write about an emotional awakening that happened after a night's sleep.) 

3. "I was not supposed to..." (Write about a time that you broke a rule, and what consequences followed.)

4. "You should have..." (Write a letter to someone that broke one of your rules in the past.)

5. "I was the child that..." (Describe the kind of child you were, why you think you were like that, and if you are still that kind of person. If not, describe what/who made you change.) 

6. "Don't tell me..." (Write about a time when you were scolded for some action that you still stand behind to this day.) 
Happy Writing!



Thanks for visiting my blog. I wanted to tell you a little bit about why I chose the name "No More Hydrangeas." as my blog title. I am an MFA student, studying Creative Nonfiction, and as part of my program requirements, I am working on a critical paper about the representation of poverty in the American South. As I was developing my topic, I found myself telling my faculty mentor that if I read another description of an old woman sitting on her front porch, fanning herself as she gazed at her full-bloomed hydrangea bush, I was going to puke. One of my goals as a writer is to strip off the flowery haze of the mysticism of the poor American South so that those who must survive it will not be lowered or elevated inappropriately.

But, this is not the only thing that my blog is about. Actually, I hardly will mention it again. I will be writing about my experience as an MFA student and all of the other aspects of my life as a writer.

Again, thanks for reading my blog. Please visit it again, and often.

Kasey Ray-Stokes